Ten Spoon’s story ~
Saving habitat and enjoying good wine go together in Missoula, Montana—proof you do both is almost required to get a drivers license. So naturally, when Connie Poten and Andy Sponseller, a founder of Save Open Space (now part of Five Valleys Land Trust), got together in 1996, they found themselves in a new career—throwing rocks into a pickup to clear a pasture Connie bought to preserve from development, a mile south of the Rattlesnake Wilderness Area.
Preparing the pasture, a 1,000-foot deep glacial outwash made of cobble rocks, for a vineyard soon called for high school soccer teams, a visiting doctor from New Zealand, young lads earning money for their first cars, strong Russian emigrés and numerous friends who happened by. And finally, a tractor and a big yellow rock picker.
The Geology of it all…
We were excavating the exposed top of the remains of Glacial Lake Missoula, part of the ice expansion 15,000 years ago. Geologists believe Lake Missoula formed at least 41 times, and each time it left behind a deep layer of colorful argillite cobble in the Rattlesnake Valley. These rocks, and the pure water flowing out of the Rattlesnake Mountains are the source of the clear, vibrant flavors that grace our wines.
The Grape Growing & Wine Making Part…
Andy studied with U. C. Davis’ oenological department. He visited wineries and vineyards in Minnesota and Wisconsin and stayed with the venerable Elmer Swenson, father of North Country grapes, just before he died. We planted an acre a year with French-American hybrids: Maréchal Foch, Frontenac, Leon Millot, Swenson Red and St. Croix (reds), and St. Pepin, a white grape.
Even though we have a short growing season at 3,450 feet elevation, we have the Far North’s advantage of long hours of sunlight. That gives us well over 2,000 degree days, the amount necessary for the commercial production of grapes. (Degree days are the sum of average temperatures each day over 50 degrees Fahrenheit.)
In 2012 we planted another vineyard, with a space between the two for a wildlife corridor. Fertile soil, pure water and an evening wash of air from the Rattlesnake Mountains help nurture our 7 acres of vines.
Early History of the Place
The older tradition of this valley is that of the Salish Indians. To avoid Hellgate Canyon where Blackfeet waited in ambush, Salish buffalo hunters crossed this land for generations, camping at a nearby spring on their way to and from the buffalo grounds east of the mountains. They named the creek ‘Rattlesnake,’ not because any rattlesnakes live here—they don’t—but because the charging spring runoff tumbles the rocks, sounding like the snake’s rattle.
In 1812, David Thompson, British surveyor and one of the greatest practical land geographers of all time, mapped the region from the top of Mt. Jumbo, a commanding view because the Salish burned Mt. Jumbo every ten years to clear off brush and trees to prevent enemy cover. On the valley’s western flank lies an unmarked Salish burial ground. The ancestors of the Salish, who live to the north on the Flathead Indian Reservation, remain here, watching over their valley.